Poppy for Medicine: An Essential Part of a Balanced Economic Development Solution for Afghanistan's Illegal Opium Economy
By Romesh Bhattacharji
, Former Narcotics Commissioner of India, and Jorrit E.M. Kamminga
, International Council on Security and Development (ICOS)
"Given the current desperate state of both the counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan, there is little to lose in trying to implement Poppy for Medicine in the country. This proposal foresees the local production of an Afghan brand of morphine to boost the rural economy and diversify it over time. Poppy for Medicine does not pretend to completely wipe out illegal opium production. Instead, it aims to integrate as many poppy farmers as possible within the legal economy and cut off the biggest possible amount of income from the Taliban's funding base. The system would borrow successful elements from similar poppy licensing schemes in India and Turkey, and should reduce diversion to illegal channels over time while stressing compulsory economic diversification.
By focusing on the unmet needs of morphine around the world, Poppy for Medicine would provide much needed painkillers to those people with little or no access to them – currently about 80 per cent of the world's population. In Afghanistan, you have to start somewhere and you have to start with something that works. Counter arguments focusing on corruption or a lack of institutional capacity to run or control these projects, should not be used to prevent us from testing whether the current situation (100 per cent diversion of opium towards illegal channels and into the pockets of the Taliban) can be considerably improved. Instead, Poppy for Medicine and similar economic development projects should be implemented to see whether they can boost the rural economy and build capacities and new skills at the same time."